In Argentina, Cow Dung Generates Heaps Of Electricity

Moo-y bien
Moo-y bien
Hector Huergo

CHRISTOPHERSEN — Argentina's Adecoagro, an industrial farming multinational has turned one of its dairy farms into a surprising source of power. A new technique for generating energy from cow dung has now proven to supply enough electricity from cowpat to power a town of 5,000 residents. Its biodigester system with a 1.4 MW capacity, began operating in November in its state-of-the-art sheds in Christophersen in the province of Santa Fe, west of Buenos Aires.

The system was hailed last month by Argentine Minister of Agriculture Luis Miguel Etchevehere, who described the generator as "absolutely revolutionary" for its size and innovation. The farm is already a model of progressive dairy farming. Its 7,000 cows are described as living in comfort and with minimal stress in large, air conditioned sheds where they are fed, sleep on sand beds, enjoy automatic cleaning systems. Surrounding land, located in the heart of the muggy pampas, is used to grow feed crops for them.

These conditions have helped raise milk yields that have reached 37 liters a day, compared to the national average of 18 liters. Milking takes place on conveyor belts that can hold 80 cows at once, and lasts eight minutes. The farm thus milks 500 cows an hour over seven hours a day, producing 250,000 liters of milk a day.

Its only glitch was what to do with the effluents produced by these happy cows, which reportedly poop where they please, from pathways to their sand beds, requiring constant cleaning. The firm decided to use an Energy Ministry program, Renov.Ar, from 2016, to turn this waste into power.

The cowpat is separated from the sand and continually sent into three, large hermetically sealed tanks (the biodigesters). There "methanizing" bacteria act on them to produce methane gas that feeds a big generator. The Italian-designed technology came at a cost of $6 million. The firm is making plans to double the dairy farm to hold 14,000 cows. Adecoagro also produces ethanol from sugarcane in its Brazilian operations.

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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